What Pushes your Buttons? Identifying Triggers!

Posted by Kris Baker on 9/20/2018 7:00:00 AM

Slow drivers, my children leaving wrappers around the house, putting clothes that have been tried on, but not worn in the hamper, leaving dirty dishes in the sink instead of putting them in the dishwasher, that is RIGHT next to the sink, “borrowing” something of mine without permission and never returning it . . . these are things that just push my buttons! Triggers are either internal or external stimuli that causes an emotional reaction (Abraham, D. 2018).  Understanding our triggers and what fuels our emotions helps individuals learn to manage their emotions and cope with those triggers in an effective and beneficial fashion.

It is important for adults and children to understand that everyone has triggers.  Zones of Regulation intentionally focus on students identifying their triggers in order to help them apply problem-solving strategies or coping strategies, and/or tools to effectively and appropriately respond to a given trigger (Kuypers, L., 2017).  When students are able to identify their triggers, staff can help students regulate around those triggers, remove some triggers when appropriate and give notice, when able, of in impending trigger (Kuypers, L., 2017).

It is beneficial for teachers to work with groups or a class when processing and identifying triggers.  Some children who struggle with self-regulation, struggle to understand their triggers or may be reticent regarding triggers, thinking they are themselves the only ones with triggers.  When they see that their peers and that even adults have triggers, they may be more open to sharing theirs. Also, once hearing peer triggers, they may gain insight and understanding regarding what sets them off.   

There are many ways to work on identification of triggers.  You can brainstorm triggers, and I suggest writing them down so students can process that information visually.  You can role play different situations and discuss if that situation would be a trigger for you or not. You can use pictures to help students identify what situation or events cause them to go to the yellow or the red zone (Kuypers, L., 2017).  

Books are another way to help students work through events and life situations that can  provoke negative emotions. Some books to help students with this are:

  • Books by Julia Cook:
    • I Just Want to do it My Way
    • But It's Just a Game
    • Soda Pop Head
    • I just Don’t Like the Sound of No
    • The Worst Day of my LIfe Ever
    • Well, I Can Top That
  • Millie Fierce by Jane Manning
  • The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein
  • When Sophie Gets Angry Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang
  • When Sophie’s Feels Are Really, Really Hurt by Molly Bang
  • On Monday When It Rained by Cherryl Kachenmeister
  • The Grouchies by Debbie Wagenbach and Steve Bach

Other Resources:

I am sure that at times it feels like students go from  0 - 60 in one second. By understanding their triggers and even our own triggers, we can more effectively “read” our students.  Then, we can work with them to intentionally address their triggers and develop individualized plans to cope and self-regulate.

Kuypers,  L. (2011). Zones of Regulation:  A curriculum designed to foster self-regulation and emotional control.  Think Social Publishing. Santa Clara, CA

Abraham, D. (2018). 3 SUPER SIMPLE STEPS TO HELP AN ANGRY CHILD RECOGNIZE TRIGGERS.  Retrieved 9/2018 from: https://lemonlimeadventures.com/help-an-angry-child-recognize-triggers/



Kris Baker, Autism Consultant